DeQuan Turner fell to his knees, and looked up at the sky. He had just rolled out on fourth and goal from the Dunbar two-yard line, his team trailing 12-6, two minutes to go. And instead of running it — like he had all day in the 43rd Turkey Bowl — Anacostia’s dynamic quarterback decided to throw.
The ball sailed just high in the corner of the end zone, and Dunbar’s sideline erupted with relief.
Anacostia wasn’t expected to make much of a run this season in the DCIAA. And it wasn’t expected to deliver such a spirited performance on Thanksgiving morning. But in the end, Dunbar made enough plays to escape with a 12-8 victory in a thriller at Eastern High.
“We had to be resilient,” said Dunbar Coach Jerron Joe. “I knew [Anacostia] was going to come in fighting, swinging and clawing.”
Just a few days ago, Turner’s football career at Anacostia was over. His gear was checked in and washed after the Indians lost to Wilson in the DCIAA semifinal two weeks ago. But Wilson was disqualified earlier this week after D.C. Public Schools discovered the school had fielded an ineligible player earlier this season — forcing Anacostia (6-6) to scramble on Sunday to prepare for Dunbar, a program that was making its third consecutive appearance in the Turkey Bowl.
Thursday’s game offered not only a temporary reprieve from the dark cloud hanging over the league in the wake of Wilson’s disqualification — but also a dramatic one. Dunbar quarterback Lamel Matthews accounted for 224 yards of total offense to lead the Crimson Tide (9-2), which advanced to the inaugural DCSAA Championship game next week at Howard.
Dunbar looked sleepy for much of the first half. The Crimson Tide turned the ball over on downs inside the Anacostia 20-yard line on each of its first two possessions, and Matthews fumbled a snap at the Anacostia 19-yard line with about a minute left in the second quarter.
“It was frustrating getting into the red zone a couple of times and not being able to score,” Matthews said. “But they were throwing some good defenses out there.”
But the Crimson Tide capitalized on several gifts from Anacostia. The Indians botched a punt snap early in the first quarter, setting up Matthews and company with opportunistic field position — and five plays later, Matthews rolled right and found James Duff sitting down in the end zone for a nine-yard touchdown to make it 6-0.
On the ensuing drive, Anacostia’s Turner was intercepted by Hazle Crawford in the flat, and Crawford returned it 44 yards for another score to give Dunbar a 12-0 edge. Anacostia wouldn’t go away, as Turner converted a 15-yard touchdown pass to Tyray Johnson on third and goal on the ensuing possession.
Dunbar stalled again in the middle of the fourth quarter, turning the ball over on downs once again at the 12-yard line. That’s when Turner engineered perhaps his best drive of the season. After moving Anacostia 68 yards to the Dunbar 20 (keyed by a 17-yard run), Turner converted an eight-yard pass on fourth and seven to Johnson, and Anacostia faced a fourth and one on the Dunbar two-yard line three plays later with just over two minutes remaining. But Turner rolled out and overthrew his target in the corner of the endzone, and he was picked off in the final secondsafter Dunbar had taken a strategic safety.
“I just rushed into my pass,” said Turner of the overthrow on fourth and goal.
He finished with 202 yards passing to complement 60 yards running, and he looked much like the best player on the field in his final high school game. He was a toddler the last time Anacostia played in a Turkey Bowl, in 1997, but he was a part of the team that led Anacostia back to respectability in 2012 under first-year Coach Cato June.
“That’s a good turnaround for us. Everybody worked hard from April all the way until now. That’s why we at where we at now,” Turner said. “I do believe Anacostia is back, even though I’m not going to be here next year.”